Photo Illustration by Corey McMahon '11

With California’s proposition to legalize recreational use of marijuana in the state – along with the realized legalization of the medicinal use of the drug in 14 states – the debate on marijuana is heating up

By Bo Fisher ’11 and Evan Smith ’11

There are four different strains of marijuana laid out on the table in plastic bags. Though the contents of each baggie look nearly identical, senior James* has no trouble rattling off the names of the strains and their individual effects when smoked.

James is a self-professed “weed-lover.” As a former dealer of the substance, he knows how big the marijuana market is.

“Selling [marijuana] is really easy money,” James tells us. “No matter where you go, there will always be a market for it. You buy a lot of weed to sell, and you go through it pretty fast.”

But there are also risks involved with being a marijuana dealer, which James says are the main reasons he no longer sells it.

“It’s definitely risky,” James says. “Besides the police, you might have to mess around with strangers and sketchy places; you got to be careful.”

Although James has stopped dealing marijuana, he still smokes it regularly. As we are talking to him, he has a few friends sitting with him in the basement of his house, all of them under the influence or in the process of smoking. The TV is on and a set of speakers is playing music from James’ iPod. The part of this story that is most surprising is that it is around 12:45 p.m. on a school day. In 20 minutes or so they will all go back to class—and none of them seem too concerned with that.

They will get in their cars and drive to school, get to class, talk to their teachers, do their school work—all while they are high. James tells us it is something he’s become accustomed to doing.

“It’s pretty easy to pass for not being high,” he says. “If you smoke frequently, you learn to hold your substance.”

At his peak, James says he was smoking marijuana around five or six times a day; however, he does not classify such usage as an addiction.

“It’s not addictive at all,” James says. “If I suddenly couldn’t get weed [then it] could be annoying and put me in a bad mood, but you get over it. It’s not like crack where your body needs it.”

The truth of this is unclear. Professional opinions are contradictory, but Adi Jaffe, a doctoral student at UCLA, wrote in Psychology Today that significant physical symptoms can accompany withdrawal; he noted that psychological and physical addiction are related.

“There is no doubt that real withdrawal symptoms exist for long term users [including] fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and trouble eating,” Jaffe said. “Psychological addiction and physical addiction [are] inextricably linked through our psyche’s presence in the brain.”

And according to the July 19, 2009 New York Times article “Marijuana is a Gateway Drug for Two Debates,” the risk of moving up from marijuana to harder, more dangerous drugs is a serious factor. The article presented Joyce, an anonymous source who was reported to have begun using morphine when she tried to quit smoking marijuana.

James dismisses the gateway drug theory.

“If somebody moves on to harder stuff it’s because they want to do it,” James says. “If somebody starts doing heroin, it’s not because they used to smoke weed.”

Of course, not all share James’ pro-marijuana sentiments. Two such opponents are the federal government and the state of Ohio, both of which still hold laws prohibiting possession of marijuana at any age. With the Nov. 2 vote over the recreational usage of marijuana in California approaching, the debate is just beginning.

To Each His Own

The illegal sale of marijuana in the United States is now generally estimated to be a $10-$40 billion a year industry, according to a CNBC Special Report “Marijuana and Money.” Additionally, according to the same article, there are estimates that the market could be as large as $100 billion a year.

Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana. As such, these state rulings are in direct opposition to federal law, giving the federal Drug Enforcement Agency the right to raid medicinal marijuana dispensaries and seize assets. According to a 2009 Fortune article, “Is Pot Already Legal?,” this protocol continued until February 2009, when President Barack Obama declared that the federal government would no longer interfere in states’ rulings regarding medicinal marijuana.

However, the cannabis industry still faces challenges on all sides. From the nation’s war on drugs in states without medicinal marijuana laws, to smaller more local anti-drug groups, marijuana has many opponents.

According to the 2009 Primary Prevention Awareness, Attitude and Use Survey, which is administered in Franklin county schools, use among students is significant. Just over 20 percent of seniors reported smoking marijuana at least once per month.

In UAHS specifically, the student-led Team Delta Max, a drug- and alcohol-free group, has maintained its stance that drug abuse need not be the norm amongst students. While Team Delta Max is focused more on efforts to create fun, alcohol-free environments for students, its mission statement, according to the group’s website, includes combating all drugs, including marijuana.

When asked, many members of Team Delta Max were not so adamantly against marijuana on a general basis as they were on a personal one, choosing not to use the drug themselves, but not condemning those who do.

Senior Keeley McCormick, a member of the leadership group of Team Delta Max, noted her own personal reasons for avoiding using the drug.

“I don’t really see the point,” McCormick said. “I’m impulsive in the first place; heightening that is not a good idea for me.”

Although she is against using marijuana herself, McCormick is not strongly for or against legalization of the drug.

“I don’t think it’d be that big of a deal [if it was legalized],” McCormick said. “Really, I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. If it was my kid [who was using marijuana,] I probably wouldn’t like it. But if someone wants to, I’m not going to try and stop them. To each his own.”

While McCormick does not hold strong judgement against those who use marijuana, the high school administration holds a less lenient view. According to assistant principal Emilie Greenwald, there is a specific protocol for marijuana and other drug-related situations. Teachers who suspect that a student is under the influence or in possession of a drug is asked to first report it to an administrator.

“We see [the students] and speak with them to see whether the student is in possession of or has used drugs,” Greenwald said. “We may ask them to empty their pockets or look through their bag.”

According to The Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, a first offense regarding drug use in school is met with a 10-day suspension. With an agreement to participation in an anti-drug program, that can be shortened to three days.

“On the second offense, the student serves a 10-day suspension and receives a recommendation for expulsion,” Greenwald said.

While some students do smoke marijuana regularly, few are able to acknowledge the downsides to the

drug. Junior Elizabeth* admits to smoking marijuana for the past three years and does not see herself stopping anytime soon, yet she understands

the consequences.

“Honestly, I see how it can affect my school work. It really does,” Elizabeth said. “I have not noticed a change in my mental capacity, however. I just know that while I’m in a habit my priorities shift and I’m less likely to focus on my academic life.”

With all the notions that marijuana is a psychologically-addictive substance, leading to harder drugs such as heroin and hallucinogens, Elizabeth does not recall a time when she has ever felt a physical or mental withdrawal from marijuana.

“I’ve been to the point where I’ve smoked every day, multiple times a day for weeks at a time. I’ve also gone weeks without it,” Elizabeth said. “It’s not an addictive thing.”

Unlike many other users, Elizabeth does concede to the theory that marijuana is a stepping stone to harder substances like heroin or other hallucinogens.

“It is a gateway drug,” she said. “But only because it’s stage one of the process. It doesn’t lead to harder drugs necessarily but often times when there’s a list, [marijuana] is number one.”

Though she cannot hide from the fact that marijuana is the first step in a possible life of drug use, Elizabeth said it depends on the individual and not the drug itself.

“If you have an experimental personality, you’ll try it and probably try other things too,” she said. “It all depends on who is taking the drugs.”

Still In The Basement

James is holding a small bottle of Visine eye drops. He carefully puts a drop in each eye to get rid of the redness. Sitting in front of us, it is nearly impossible to tell that he has just smoked pot.

“All [marijuana] does for me is make me more relaxed,” James said. “It gives me an altered perception and I’m not so stressed out.”

As James and his friends prepare to head back to school, they do not feel concerned about being around their teachers while under the influence.

For him the choice is clear— marijuana should be legalized. He claims he would love a world in which he could walk into a gas station and purchase a pack of joints, rather than have to deal with “some sketchy guy.”

But that is only one side of the argument. It is not clear whether marijuana will ever be fully legalized in the United States. While Elizabeth supports the idea as well, she does not see national legalization taking place anytime soon.

“It probably won’t be legalized in my lifetime. [Even with the possible negative effects of marijuana,] I think it’s stupid to be restricted to begin with,” she said. “It’s a real petty excuse to bust teenagers in parking lots.”

Legalization and drug use in general is not something with which Greenwald claims to be familiar; however, she said the thought of a country where marijuana is legal worries her.

“It’s not something I want to see,” Greenwald said. “Legalization is something that really scares me. I don’t really know what legalization would look like. My biggest concern is the health of our students. It fits into the category of unhealthy choices.”

Healthy or not, marijuana appears to be a significant factor in the lives of many teenagers and adults across the country. And based on the opinions gathered, it does not appear the use of cannabis will stop anytime soon.

For now, recreational use of marijuana is illegal, its users still in the basement, underground, hidden secretly from school administrators, police and the general public.

At least in James’ opinion, the issue of marijuana legalization can only have one outcome. In his mind, legalization is inevitable. And he said he hopes it will happen sooner rather than later.

“It’s something that can’t be avoided,” James said. “And it surprises me that it hasn’t happened already. When there’s that much money in it, I can’t see how the government hasn’t touched it yet.” •